Common Snapping Turtle #17-2211

Admission Date: 
August 26, 2017
Location of Rescue: 
Cause of Admission / Condition: 
Swallowed two fish hooks
Patient Status: 
Current Patient
On August 26, the Wildlife Center admitted a Snapping Turtle from Spotsylvania County. Snapping Turtle #17-2211 was rescued by animal control after it was observed with  fishing line coming out of its mouth.
During the initial exam, radiographs revealed two fishing hooks in the turtle: one in the esophagus and one in the gastrointestinal tract, likely within the stomach. The veterinary team performed an endoscopy to remove the fish hook from the esophagus, but the hook in the stomach could not be removed using this technique.
The turtle needed several days to fully recover from the first procedure, and the veterinary staff took this time to plan the appropriate approach to remove the fishing hook from the stomach.
After careful planning, Dr. Ernesto determined that a plastronectomy is the best approach to remove the fishing hook. Essentially, Dr. Ernesto will cut a “window” from the turtle’s plastron (the bottom part of a turtle’s shell). A turtle’s shell is made up of a series of bony plates; the plastronectomy will require portions of several plates to be cut.
Once Dr. Ernesto can visualize the stomach and intestines, he can locate the fishing hook and prepare to safely remove it.

Following surgery, the veterinary team will put the bone back in place and seal it in place with bone cement. The surgical site will be covered with tegaderm (a plastic-like sheet) for protection. On September 7, the veterinary team will cover the site with acrylic to seal where the bone was cut. Sealing it will allow the turtle to eventually soak in water, which is important for this aquatic species of turtle.


January 30, 2018

During the past several months in the Wildlife Center’s care, Snapping Turtle #17-2211 has been steadily healing and improving. The turtle is housed in the temperature-controlled Reptile Room and swims in a tub with a saltwater solution that helps prevent infection in the plastron wound as it heals.

The turtle’s appetite has been strong, and her attitude is bright. The veterinary and rehabilitation staff anticipate seeing continued improvement in the turtle during the remaining winter and early spring months.

Snapping Turtle #17-2211 underwater.

September 12, 2017

Snapping Turtle #17-2211 has been doing well post-surgery. On September 11, Drs. Ernesto and Alexa applied an acrylic epoxy to the turtle’s surgical site; the epoxy will protect the shell where it was cut open during surgery, and allow the staff to soak the turtle. Snapping Turtles, like most aquatic turtles, have better appetites and increased hydration when they are allowed to eat in water.

Beginning on September 13, the rehabilitation staff will soak the turtle every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. While soaking, the turtle will have access to a turtle meal consisting of chopped leafy greens, vegetables, and meat (e.g. chopped rat or small fish).

September 6, 2017

Dr. Ernesto, Dr. Alexa, and veterinary technician Jenna performed Snapping Turtle 17-2211’s plastronectomy on the afternoon of September 6. The surgery lasted roughly four hours, but the team was unable to remove the hook.


Dr. Ernesto’s initial approach to remove the hook in the stomach was unsuccessful, due to the location of the hook.  The hook’s barbs are well-embedded in the wall of the stomach near the esophagus. Access to the hook’s location in the stomach was blocked by the turtle’s heart. Dr. Ernesto tried a different approach, coming in from a lower portion of the plastron. Still the hook was inaccessible.


Though it’s not ideal, the hook was left in place and the turtle’s surgical site was closed. The plastron “window” was sealed with bone cement and covered to prevent infection.


Because of how the hook is stuck in the stomach, Drs. Ernesto and Alexa do not think the hook will move; if the hook could move freely, there would be concern about it perforating the stomach and causing sepsis. If the hook is made from stainless steel, it’s possible that zinc could leach into the turtle’s bloodstream, possibly leading to toxicity. Deterioration of the hook would likely be slow, however, and the hook’s material is unknown.


The veterinary team will perform bloodwork monthly to check for signs of toxicity, and they will take radiographs periodically to check on the hook. There is also risk of infection at the surgical site, so close monitoring of the plastron wound is necessary. Though the veterinary team does not anticipate issues with the turtle eating, they will monitor the turtle once it is fed to make sure the hooks isn’t affecting food passing into the stomach.


Snapping Turtle #17-2211 will spend the winter at the Center.